Educating Catholic Children in the Case of Parental Divorce, Cohabitation and Re-marriage

A Church Law Review

Scientific Essay, 2012

30 Pages



According to a short legendary story, on the first day of the Vatican Council, John Pope XXIII stood up, walked to the windows, opened them and said, “The Church’s window should be always open so that the fresh air could come in.” With this statement he hinted at the Church’s having to be free and open towards the reforms, and serve the faithful of the modern life.[1] The revision of the Code 1917 was in the light of the conciliar work during the council, and the topic education was also not an exception from this. The Code would like to treat this issue much more precisely that its ancestor had done. Within book III, title III is about catholic education, but it talks about the rights and duties in a general sense. Two basic documents of the council, however, are regarded to form the ground of the new Code dealing with education, such as Gravissimum Educationis and Dignitas humanae.[2] In 1960, when the Pope presented his questions to the Commission, he pointed out some significant factors, such as the role of parents in educational process, and the duty of the State to provide support for these endeavors.[3]

The initial plan for the preparatory work of the Council was for Constitution, De scholis catholicis,[4] and a draft of this completed in 1962. It was just thirty- six pages, and spoke about the topics as rights of the family in education, Church education, and other basic principles. The need of preserve, develop and help catholic schools and the cooperation with teachers and parents were also included. It also intended to talk about higher and academic education, and getting grades in the church. It has underwent many discussions, when at the end, the fourth version of it was sent to the Council fathers on 22 April, 1963. The schema was divided into three sections, such as education (1), catholic schools in general (2), and catholic universities(3). There were three other appendices attached to the document, involving some hints about the syntax changes in the Code. In 1964, a request was made that the schema should be treated as a votum, emphasizing the very importance of education and catholic schooling. Some weeks later, another request was issued, and other requirements were noted by the Holy See, including the key points for voting, and asking for another revision of the schema. Finally, in September 1964 the schema was ready for a vote. It proposed that the chapter “Catholic Schools” in the Code 1917 should be changed into “De scholis in genere” (The schools in general), with the addition of the fundamental rights and duties for catholic schools. The

title of the schema was “Declaration on Christian Education”, presented by relator J. Deam, bishop of Antwerp.[5]

It was not welcomed by great roars. Some bishops were absolutely against its methods, claiming that the whole text must be demolished and revised. Some others, on the other hand, wanted to go on with the discussion, stating that the time had been not enough to trigger out a so big change in the Code. Finally, however, the vote was taken. Among 2325 voters 2290 voted for “yes”, and 35 voted “no”. Thus, consequently, on 28 October, 1965 Gravissimum Educationis was promulgated in the seventh session of the Council.

The Declaration, as finally reached the Council, was regarded as a brief document. It focused on the importance of education, and the severe role of the Church in this field. The Council, in addition, had insisted on the right to make decision on behalf of the human dignity, and the education according to their ability. The true education, as it had also been stressed, aims at forming the whole person onto being a good Christian, and must be many-faceted.[6] It had put great demand on the emphasizing the role of parents, the Church, and also making place for the state as well as other educators, claiming to develop young holistically in mind, body, heart and soul.

In the aspect of the Council and the new code, the parental rights had been settled and it seemed to be absolutely clear what these rights and obligations had been. However, as this essay would like to show, there remained many questions opened. The major thing that kept us puzzle through our previous doctoral research as well was that how parental rights and duties can be exercised if the parents get divorced, or there is a partner of life (cohabitation) and also when one or both parents remarry. In these cases, the duties and the rights must be handled more precisely. We do think that the Code does not count on these in every detail. The problem might be that the CIC itself would not account for civil divorce and re-marriage. It only speaks about “legal” separation. However, in the case of a successful nullity case and positive decision, we must account for remarriage, or partnership where the duties and right must also be exercised, and the children must get the proper education.

Participants in education process

It is seriously worth talking about the people standing on the two opposite sides of the education process. First, we are supposed to define those people who are triggering out education, so those who are willing to educate. Second, we most drop some words about those who are the addressee of the education. It is a process – we have consumed; due to this fact, it has a beginning and an end.

The canon 266 in §2 would intend to name the first persons to educate. These are the parents of children.[7] From this step, therefore, we are willing to sketch up all the people around who could be viewed as educators.

Notably, parents are the first step in education. They are the first people in connection with offspring, and they form a familiar milieu in which a child spends his early years. There is not any other choice for them. Being a parent is equivalent to possessing duties. It is absolutely clarified in the Code. Parents are the basic educators, because they gave birth to their offspring.[8] On the contrary, it would not be absolutely proper to talk about each person separately. Experts keep saying that the family atmosphere the parents build up is the most important thing. Not only the things they talk about, but the way they behave. A family should be regarded as a small society.[9] In this small society, it is very notable how everyday life is going on. The interaction between parents and relatives would be the first acquisition of the newborn. Hence, it is not perplexing why the Code puts a great demand on the parental obligations.[10] Even before the child is due to be delivered, the Code suggest that the mother go to local parish priest for a short discussion. This is could be viewed as a preparatory work for the first initial step: the baptism.[11] For baptism, being the first step to be the child of God, mainly depends on parents in the infant ages. Thus, for education, the parental attitude is very basic. We could observe the educational process from this point. Who could be also responsible for the catholic education the parents exclusive? The Code emphasizes that all Christian faithful must work on building up a Christian life, being entitled to teach and educate people. This is the mission which everyone gets when being baptized.[12]

The Code denotes the importance of godparents. Godparents must be active members of Christ’s society, active participants in taking the sacraments, and active educators.[13] These are the main features that the godparents must sufficiently have. However, we are all aware of the fact that godparents, though being very important in the first years of a child, are actually the least effective persons. What could be the reason for this anomaly?

Though the Church claims a very lot if somebody intends to be a godparent, according to our research, godparents are not sufficient educators, even in a normal Christian family.[14] However, the Code does not say that they are supposed to take over the role of parents. Thus, the principle responsibility of a godparent is to give witness to the Christian faith by their lives, not, as it is often thought, to take over for parents if something happens to them. The role of godparent obligates one to a sacred responsibility for the whole of one's life. For all this, hereby we have to note one thing: in practice, this additional role of a godparent seems to be simplified as somebody who supplies the infant with goods and money, and will remain in the child’s mind as somebody who always sends presents as Christmas. On the contrary, we still can find many families where the traces of the sacramental status of being a godparent are still visible. Many attempts have already been made even in the frame of church legislation to make the godparental status more effective. Moreover, the new Code, as it has already been mentioned before, would like to define clearly the real candidate for godparents. Still, however, we cannot figure out any acceptable solutions for this matter.

There is one another aspect in this field. The Code says that one of the godparents must be active initiated catholic, the other could be the member of another church. In this case, this non-catholic parent has not any sacramental mission, but still has juridical importance. Therefore, he/she can be viewed as a witness in baptizing. Unfortunately, some experts say that the non-active catholic godparents downgrades him/herself to a simple witness.[15]

Positively, the Code recognizes the non-catholic godparents as witnesses of the evidence of baptism without taking up sacramental positions. However, as denoted before, the catholic godparents could be degraded to witnesses, if they are not an active participants in the Church.[16]

It is obvious that we must divide baptism into two major parts according to its participants. When we wanted to talk about the degrading of godparental status, we mainly concentrated on infant baptism.

The Code has brought back the institution of catechumenatus. Thus, if we are not regarding infant baptism, the candidate must go through a detailed teaching and education before his being baptized and accepted to the Church of Christ. Therefore, in this case, the candidate will intend to opt for his would-be godparent. Since the candidate is of near adult age, he could choose the most appropriate godparent. Because of this, his godparent will be the best example before him, and will fulfill his roles according to the law.[17]

The next supportive people could be the grandparents. It is absolutely agreed that children could acquire a lot from their grandparents. The Code, however, does not mentioned them namely. On one hand, it could be listed as an insufficiency, since the Code ought to have talked about the presence of grandparents. On the other hand, we have to be aware of the fact that the Code follows another structural construction. In many countries, we talk about Family Laws or Family Acts in civil legislation. On the contrary, the Church talks about Marriage Law, where the sacred importance of marriage is underlined, and everything is built upon this.[18]

Depending on the Code, the grandparental status could be derived from two points: first, it could stem from the parental status automatically,[19] second, it could be picked on where the Code talks about the rights and duties of every Christian faithful.[20]

Still within the frame of a family, we could list many people. However, as denoted before, their duties and rights are listed generally in the Codex Iuris Canonici. Moreover, we must avoid stating evidences, since our work would like to deal with a special problem in this field.

Outside the family, we could name – according to the Code – two significant layers of the society. One part could be marked as other non-familiar staff (such as nursery teachers, teachers, educators, etc) and non-familiar professional staff (such as ordinates, bishops, parish priests and religion teachers). Both layers are dealt with in the Code.

The Code talks about the rights and duties of every Christian faithful, and as drawn up before, the non-professional staff could be inserted in that category. In addition, the Codex itself puts them into this category, since it aims to talk about the role of parents, clergy, professional non-clerical staff, and the others. Within these structural categories, the role of parents, as we have talked about it before, is highly underlined and handled in many parts of the Code.[21] The role of the professional staff is also forming a category.[22] In this field the Codex defines two parts of education. The public education, and the academic one. It is highly similar to civil legislation. In Hungary as well as in western countries, the education is divided into the former two categories. This is very significant to be made difference. The Codex Iuris Canonici denotes this difference as well and the conditions are not the same as well.. It has already been a question of great debates whether the capacity of a university lecturer is degraded by canon 812 or not. However, what is absolutely sure is that the Code requires much more control on academic education than on public one. Why did the Code enhance this?


[1] BAUM, G., 13.

[2] POHLSCHNEIDER, J., Declaration on Christian Education, in H. VORGRIMLER (ed.), Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, New York, 1969, 2.

[3] HAYES, M. A., As Stars for all Eternity: A Reflection on canons 793-795, in Studia Canonica 23 (1989) 412.


[5] POHLSCHNEIDER, J.,2. and HAYES, M. A., 415.

[6] HAYES, M. A., 416.

[7] see canon 226 §2: “Parentes, cum vitam filiis contulerint, gravissima obligatione tenentur et iure gaudent eos educandi; ideo parentum Christianorum imprimis est Christianam educationem secundum doctrinam ab Ecclesia traditam curare. “

[8] Ibid

[9] CSANÁD, B., Keresztény Valláspedagógia, Budapest 1991, 78-79.

[10] MORRISEY, F.G., 433. Notably, the fact that in the first paragraph in can. 226 the parental rights are mentioned first must not mislead us. The text reads “parents have the most serious obligation and the right to educate them…” This obviously expresses that obligation is the most important thing. This twist of obligations and rights – unlike in civil legislation – is normal in the Code. On the contrary, Morrisey notes that the canon makes comments only on the right itself, and would not intend to comment obligation. The Codex feels like giving reasons to rights, but supposing that obligation is absolutely clear. It is, Morissey adds, because reasoning with obligation was the teaching of the Council beforehand, but highlighting rights had not been included. This is, amongst many others, the renewal of the new Codex Iuris Canonici. Therefore, for us it is inevitably understandable that - in canonical aspects - obligations are put before rights, though the essence of talking about rights systematically cannot be questioned.

[11] Can 867. § 1: “Parentes obligatione tenentur curadi ut infants intra priores hebdomadas baptizentur; quam primum post nativitatem, immo iam ante am, parochum adeant ut sacramentum pro filio petant et debite ad illud praeparentur.”

[12] Can. 210, 794, 799. In these canons all the Christian believers are mentioned. However, the Code also notes that teaching about the truth of Church could not be effectively enhanced, only if the person who teaches has already gotten the basic education. This must be coordinated by the professional personal staff such as bishop conferences, local ordinate, local priests and religion teachers.

[13] Can 872. “Baptizando, … detur patrinus, cuius est baptizando adulto in initiatione Christiana adstare, et baptizandum infantem una cum parentibus ad batismus vitam christinam baptismo congruam ducat obligationesque eidem inhaerentes fideliter adimpleat”

[14] SMITH.,C., Baptism: Godparents and Sponsors, Internet: www. (21.07.2002): “The Church requires only one godparent for baptism, whether the person to be baptized is an infant or adult. The godparent must be a fully initiated Catholic, having received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist; they must be at least 16 years of age; and they must be good, practicing Catholics. Since the primary role of godparents is to assist parents "in their duty as Christian mothers and fathers," where two godparents are selected, they must be a man and a woman, so as to imitate the image of father and mother.

[15] Ibid.; See also HIEROLD, A., Taufe und Firmung, in LISTL, J. – MÜLLER, M. - SCHMITZ, H., Handbuch des katholischen Kirchenrechts, Regensburg 1983, 669.

[16] Some experts are still perplexed about this. However, as Cliff Smith remarks, we must observe the status of the catholic godparents from two aspects: juridical and functional ones. It is obvious that the aim of the Code is if both aspects meet eachother, so godparents interact according to the law. In this case, godparents could stand as real patrons of the baptized. However, in some cases in practice, these two aspects will not meet. Thus some catholic godparents could be viewed as godparents lawfully (they fulfill the requirements for being a godparent), but functionally not. In this case, legally they are godparents, but could not meet all the requirements prescribed by the Codex.

[17] There are still pros and contras about infant baptism. We all know that in the ancient Church only adult baptism existed. Throughout the history of Church, according to the core of baptism, the church had started to baptize children. It was, for other reasons as well. Since the mortal rate amongst children was so high up till the middle of the 20th century, the Catholic Church had persisted in emphasizing the importance of infant baptism.

[18] See. Can. 1055. The church underlines the sacred evidence of marriage, and from this all consequences are derived. Hence, the sacramental marriage is a contract between the spouses triggered out by the consensus, which in evidence enhances a dissolvable eternal connection between a man and a woman. In §2 the Code denotes that “inter baptized” the marriage is also a sacrament in itself, without depending on what the spouses had thought about it. This means that the sacramental effect of marriage functions automatically. See.: BURKE, C., The Sacramentality of Marriage: Canonical Reflections, in Mon. Eccl. 119 (1994) 547.

[19] BURKE, C., The Sacramentality of Marriage: Canonical Reflections, 550.

[20] However, it is very questionable whether the parental rights and duties are subjected to the general rights and duties or not. The Codex denotes that all the Christian believers baptized and accepted to the Church have the right to teach and educate. (Can. 217) Moreover, all Christian believers must work on living a sacramental life. (Can 210) Those who are living in marriage are obliged to live a sacramental, improving life; and parents – for the reason they had given life to their offspring – have a severe duty and right to educate them. (Can 226) These canons stand right before the exact list of parental rights and duties of education – which this essay would like to focus on. On this, as a conclusion we are absolutely able to make comments. The question is, however, whether the parental right are subjected or not. The purpose of the Code was to draw up a hierarchy when regarding parental duties. That is why it remarks “severe duty” (gravissima obligatione) to educate children. Getting back to our first question, in this canon grandparents are not included, so in our opinion the grandparental status has to be viewed from the other aspect, so grandparents are dealt with in the Codex equally to other participants in enhancing education.

[21] Parental domination upon their offspring: can. 98; rights to educate offspring: cans. 225, 774, 793, 796, 797, 798; education before baptism: can. 851, 867; their permission to their children’s baptism: can. 868.

[22] Religion teachers: can. 776, 780. (This one is talking about training professional staff. See also: can. 796 § 2: the religion teachers or other teachers must work together with parents in education. Other academic teachers and the conditions of their teaching process: cans. 229, 239, 261, 812, 819, 820.

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Educating Catholic Children in the Case of Parental Divorce, Cohabitation and Re-marriage
A Church Law Review
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János Talabér (Author), 2012, Educating Catholic Children in the Case of Parental Divorce, Cohabitation and Re-marriage, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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